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Eastern

Gloom could mean boom for fishermen 

While fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico use their boats to scoop up oil from a rig that exploded off the coast of Louisiana in April, Tar Heel fishermen are gearing up for what could be a big year — thanks indirectly to a spreading slick that has crippled one of the nation’s most bountiful sources of seafood. By June, approximately 37% of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico had been closed to fishing. In 2008, Gulf fishermen harvested more than 1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration says 67% of the oysters and 73% of the shrimp harvested in the U.S. annually come from the Gulf.

As fallout from the disaster continued, prices climbed for shrimp and oysters, two key seafood products in North Carolina. Oysters jumped as much as $10 a bushel within a month. Steve George, a salesman for Willie R. Etheridge Seafood Co. in Dare County, says shrimp prices rose 25-30% because “with the Gulf not fishing, there’s a shortage.” North Carolina’s prime shrimp season doesn’t get under way until summer, and oyster season runs from October to March. Prices could come down by the time the largest part of the seafood harvest reaches the docks. But Sean McKeon, president of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, doesn’t expect that to happen. “You will probably see a higher price to fishermen on the boats,” he says.

There’s no guarantee that they’ll have a good year, though. Shrimp catches, for example, totaled about 5.4 million pounds last year, a whopping 43% drop from 2008. The state Division of Marine Fisheries blames rainfall that dumped fresh water into saltwater where shrimp thrive. So far, sampling indicates there will be abundant shrimp barring a major storm and assuming the oil doesn’t drift around Florida and up the Atlantic coast. North Carolina’s harvest produces only a small fraction of the shrimp consumed in the U.S., and about 85% of the nation’s fish and shellfish is imported.

Shortages in the U.S. might prompt dealers to import more seafood, and that could provide some brake on price increases. Certain niches, especially shrimp, face fierce competition from overseas. William Small, director of seafood marketing for the state Department of Agriculture, says the industry has made headway in promoting North Carolina shrimp as a fresh, safe alternative to imports. “With increased prices, we’re nervous about losing our market share,” he says.

CASTLE HAYNE — The opening of Titan America’s proposed $450 million cement plant could be delayed two years, until 2014, by a court-ordered environmental review. Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ruled that the review is necessary because the Norfolk, Va.-based company will receive $4.5 million in state and local incentives.

ROANOKE RAPIDS — City officials terminated their lease-purchase deal with Chicago businessman Lafayette Gatling for the former Randy Parton Theatre. They say Gatling owes $182,000 in back rent, but there is still a chance he could buy the 1,500-seat theater.

KINSTONSpirit AeroSystems moved into its 500,000-square-foot factory at the N.C. Global TransPark.The Wichita, Kan.-based company planned to begin production of fuselages and other aerospace parts this month with about 250 employees.

RAEFORDAlpla, which makes bottles for consumer-goods maker Unilever, opened a factory that employs 49. It’s based in Austria and has U.S. headquarters in Atlanta.

WINNABOW — Louis Moore Bacon, a London hedge fund manager who is descended from the family that built Orton Plantation, agreed to buy the 5,000-acre Brunswick County landmark from the Sprunt family. Terms  weren’t disclosed.

ROCKY MOUNT — Industrial contractor Metal Craft began adding 40 jobs, which will give it more than 50. Clients include drug, food-processing and textile companies.

FAYETTEVILLEUS Logistics hired retired Gen. Chuck Swannack, former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, as chief operating officer. Swannack left the Army in 2005. The company specializes in military logistics.

FAYETTEVILLEH&H Homes and Caviness & Cates Communities moved up on Builder magazine’s list of top U.S. home builders, based on 2009 closings. H&H went from No. 99 to 56; Caviness & Cates, from 89 to 68.